Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Story of Sif, Powerful Wife of Norse God Thor

Ancient Origins

The warrior god Thor is well known from Old Norse literature. He has become a popular cultural icon, but his wife seems to be largely forgotten these days. However, Sif was once recognized as an important Norse goddess and a powerful ''neck, which ruled the head''.

 A Goddess of Wheat, Fertility, and Family
Sif is known as a Norse deity whose powerful position was dictated by her marriage. She appears in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, which are the best known 13th century traditional sources on Norse mthyology.

In these texts, Sif appears as a beautiful woman with long golden hair. She was described as the mother of the goddess Thrúd (meaning ''Might'', a goddess of the storm), and god Ullr (meaning ''The Magnificent'', a god of winter). Researchers suggest that she represented the fields of wheat, which had a golden color similar to her hair.

Since the beginning, Sif was associated with fertility and family caregiving, and she was connected to the rowan tree. Her name means ''relation to marriage''. She may also be represented in the Old English poem Beowulf. The number of references of the goddess suggests that she was very important to the Norse people until at least the early medieval period.

Sif (1909) by John Charles Dollman. (Public Domain)

The Legend of Sif
The story in both Edda's about Sif is similar. She appears in the poem Hárbarðsljóð, of the Poetic Edda, where she meets Thor. They two engage, but Harbaror refuses to ferry Thor to the bay. The action of the poem contains many insults from Thor. Harbaror punishes him by telling him that Sif has a lover. Thor gets angry, but tells his enemy that it's a lie.

Image from The Elder or Poetic Edda. (Public Domain)

In another part, Sif appears in a scene with Loki, another Norse god. It's a scene related to the crystal cup of mead, but also provides an example of Loki’s personality, as the god lies by swearing that Sif had a romance with him.

Sif sleeps while Loki lurks behind in an illustration (1894) by A. Chase. (Public Domain)

In the Prose Edda, Sif appears in the Prologue section and in chapter 31 of Gylfaginning, but also in a few more places. Analysis of these texts reminds one of reading an old alphabet in the dark, but some researchers have made interesting conclusions about her based on these accounts. According to Ellis Davidson, there are some explanations about her position in the pantheon of Norse deities:

''The cult of Thor was linked up with men's habitation and possessions, and with well-being of the family and community. This included the fruitfulness of the fields, and Thor, although pictured primarily as a storm god in the myths, was also concerned with the fertility and preservation of the seasonal round. In our own times, little stone axes from the distant past have been used as fertility symbols and placed by the farmer in the holes made by the drill to receive the first seed of spring. Thor's marriage with Sif of the golden hair, about which we hear little in the myths, seems to be a memory of the ancient symbol of divine marriage between sky god and earth goddess, when he comes to earth in the thunderstorm and the storm brings the rain which makes the fields fertile. In this way Thor, as well as Odin, may be seen to continue the cult of the sky god which was known in the Bronze Age.''

Sif from a Swedish translation of the Edda. (Public Domain)

Thor was her second husband; the first one was the Giant Orvandil. Sif seems to be a similar goddess to Freya, Fjorgyn, Jord and Gefjun. It is likely that the legends about these deities were inspired by each other. She was also sort of a Norse Demeter, who was associated with vegetation on the surface of the earth, as well as fertility.

Moreover, Sif is depicted as a prophetess who knew and could see more than those around her. She was believed to be a goddess who helped others to find solutions and peace in difficult times. It was once tradition for people to bake breads with many grains to honor this goddess and ask for her help.

A Goddess for All Times
Other themes associated with Sif are: kinship, the arts, summer, passion, and the sun. In iconography, her symbols are gold, a beautiful female with golden cascading hair, and the sun. She was an Earth goddess, whose long golden hair was described as shining brighter than the sun.

Sif was also able to dominate the sky with her light. Moreover, during the summer she supposedly liked to make love to Thor beneath the open sky in the fields. Sometimes people would say that if they heard a couple making love in such a place it could have been Sif with Thor, so they didn't disturb them.

The Norse people of Iceland always greet the first day of the summer with much joy and gratitude. It seems that Sif (as an Earth Goddess) played an important role in this celebration.

 In the 19th century, a researcher named Jacob Green wrote about Sif in his works, bringing her back to Scandinavian folklore. Her popularity rose with the resurgence of past folklore and the rise in the importance of old traditions and beliefs. Since Thor's temple has started to become a new reality in Iceland, his wife is also becoming one of the most popular deities of the Norse religion.

Sif became a main character of the Marvel Comics and in the movie Thor by Marvel Studios as well. Her name was also used to name a volcano on the planet Venus – the Sif Mons.

Artwork for the cover of Thor: Son of Asgard 3 (Jun, 2004). Art by Adi Granov. (Fair Use)

Top image: A depiction of the Norse goddess Sif. Source: Journeying to the Goddess

By Natalia Klimczak

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